Migration policy in Algeria: Penalties for everything

Algeria is a role model of migration control: there are penalties for leaving the country and the nation takes back its deported expatriates. Yet its leadership is proving to be a difficult co-operation partner.

2012: Syrian refugees camp in Algiers Foto: dpa

Algeria is a classic emigration nation. “Legal“ migration, meaning that which is officially accepted by the receiving countries, remains an important source of income for the Algerian state. In June 2012, the number of Algerian national citizens living abroad was indicated by authorities to be 1.886 million. 1.718 million were in Europe, among them 1.491 million in former colonial ruler France.

While Algeria borders on the Mediterranean Sea, it is relatively distant from European shores, islands and territories. Direct pressure on Algeria from the European Union to prevent migration movements is not as starkly visible as in the cases of Morocco and Tunisia, or Libya.

There are two further factors limiting EU pressure for Algeria's co-operation in migration control. Firstly, Algerian national leadership is concerned with preserving national sovereignty. Secondly, as a key provider of oil and natural gas, also to many EU countries, Algeria is not as economically weak and susceptible to blackmail as some other nations on the African continent.

„Burn“ the borders

In any case, Algeria's diplomatic representatives abroad often do very little on behalf of their national citizens living there illegally. The consular representative in France, for example, demands proof of legal residency status from all national citizens who come to the consulate with applications or requests for help.

Attempting to leave the country illegally constitutes a criminal offence in Algeria and, in accordance with a law effective as of 25 February 2009, carries the threat of two to six months' imprisonment. As for refugee smugglers, they face up to twenty years in prison. In practice, however, suspended sentences are imposed on Algerians who undertake illegal emigration attempts.

Secure origins

Since the end of the civil war between the state powers and radical Islamists (1991/92 to 1998/99), Algerian citizens’ chances of being granted political asylum in any European nation have become very slim; the approval quota throughout Europe is at approx. 6 percent. Up to 8,000 people apply for asylum in the EU annually.

Around 2013 in France, Algerian citizens ranked twelfth among the various nationalities applying for asylum, with 1,477 applications; in 2016 it was in sixteenth place with 981 applications. The proportion of decisions thereby leading to the granting of “protected status“ in France in 2015 was at six percent overall; it was over four times higher for Algerian women than for men. In Germany, the acceptance rate for Algerian asylum seekers is less than one percent.

Sluggish implementation

Between 1994 and 2007, Algerian authorities signed a total of six readmission agreements with European states that obligated the country to take back its citizens deported from EU nations, as well as citizens of third states who had entered via Algeria.

On 3 June 2006, an agreement was signed with Switzerland that formally took effect on 26 November 2007. Yet the Algerian side dragged out negotiations over a technical “implementation protocol“ for years.

Greater expulsions (there were 700 in 2006) took place especially between Spain and Algeria due to the relatively heavy migration between the Oran region and Spain's southern coast.

On 8 December 2016, Belgian prime minister Charles Michel was in Algeria to negotiate over the state's co-operation in identifying Algerians staying “illegally“ in Belgium. So far, no comprehensive expulsion agreement as such with the EU has been forthcoming.

The European model

Yet Algeria is a country of immigration as well. On 25 June 2008, a law on immigration was passed (Law on the conditions for entry, residence and movement of foreigners) that, as stated by Algerian journalist Yassine Temlali in an article published on 18 December 2012, is modelled to a great extent on Fortress Europe's statutory regulations on the subject of migration.

The numbers of immigrants are not so high. In 2011, foreigners officially authorised for residency were counted at around 114,500. Among them were about 41 percent Chinese workers, some eleven percent had come from Egypt and seven percent were citizens of Turkey. Additionally, there were smaller numbers of Moroccans, Italians, French and UK citizens (each at about three percent or five for Italians), as well as people from neighbouring Mali and, at that time, about three percent from Syria.

The United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA), for its part, indicated a figure of 242,000 foreigners living in Algeria in 2010. The UN authorities factored in not only foreigners registered to work in the country, but also refugees and asylum seekers under the care of the UN refugee aid organisation UNHCR. No legally established refugee status or protection exists in Algeria.

The great majority of refugees view Algeria more as a transit country than an immigration destination. Since Algeria's coasts are relatively far from the European mainland, they generally attempt to travel further to Moroccan state territory. However, many migrants remain stuck in Algeria. On 13 January 2016 Paris evening newspaper Le Monde, accompanying a photo essay on The invisible of Algeria, wrote that about 100,000 of them were staying in the North African nation at that time.

Problems with the local population

Even if Algeria more often serves as a transit point, the Algerian state treats the entry of migrants as a problem to be controlled at all costs. This is also related to the fact that Moroccan authorities in border regions tend to deport refugees caught on their side back to Algeria. This has resulted in a kind of ping-pong game played with refugees. In one instance from October 2013 a group of migrants from sub-Saharan Africa was blocked for a long period at the Moroccan-Algerian border near Maghnia and was forced to camp out on the borderland.

On 7 August of the same year, the first state refugee camp was set up outside the city of Oran as a “Centre for New Accommodation“ for people from Niger. However, the refugees did not stay in the camp, which was located far outside Oran, but returned over the following weeks to Yaghmoracen. On 17 December 2012, the regional daily newspaper Le Quotidien d'Oran reported that the local population feared outbreaks of epidemics and accidents due to people from Niger begging in the streets.

Impact of the terrors of Boko Haram

Since October 2012, a total of 219 refugees from sub-Saharan Africa have been taken from Oran to the southern border of Algeria, two thousand kilometres away, or brought to a detention centre near the desert town of Adrar. After some of the migrants returned to Oran, on 8 April 2013 Le Quotidien d'Oran called for their internment near Adrar. On 11 April of that year, Algerian Minister of the Interior Dahou Ould Kablia stated that his government was not constructing camps or deportation centres. Yet a short time later, some 200 refugees were transported to Adrar. Le Quotidien d'Oran described “cleared streets“ and residents sighing in relief.

The condition of refugees in Algeria is closely tied to the general situation in Niger, one of the world's ten poorest countries. More recently, however, particularly for the population's nomadic groups, the borders with neighbouring Nigeria and Chad, which had traditionally been open, have become impassable due to the terrors of the Boko Haram sect.

At end of 2014 the Algerian government carried out a large expulsion operation of refugees from Niger, during which Algerian authorities claimed to be responding to demands from the Nigerien government.

Repeated mass deportations

On 24 December 2014 the local association of human rights coalition LADDH in the city of Oran protested that the expulsion actions toward Nigerien migrants were well on the way to openly becoming a collective deportation. In total, about 3,000 people were sent back to Niger through this operation.

At the beginning of December 2016, great numbers of migrants from sub-Saharan Africa who were living in Algerian coastal towns, particularly in the capital of Algiers, were arrested. By the account of the Algerian League for the Defense of Human Rights (LADDH), 1,400 persons were arrested and taken to the southern Algerian town of Tamanrasset, from where their deportations began on 7 December. Those primarily impacted were citizens of Mali and Cameroon.

During these events, especially noteworthy statements came from attorney Faruk Ksentini, chairman of the Commission for the Protection and Advancement of Human Rights, an organisation close to the government. In an interview with the newspaper Es-Sawt El-Akher (“The Other Voice“) on 5 December 2016, he described sub-Saharan Africans as carriers of disease, placing them particularly in connection with AIDS, and called upon Algerian authorities to deport them to get these “problems“ off the backs of Algerians. These remarks caused some outraged reactions on social media.

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